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Welsh Government has launched a new plan on employment and skills. It includes a number of measures the Engage to Change Project has been advocating for that will make a big difference for people with a learning disability in Wales.

What is the Plan about?

The Welsh Government policy “Stronger, fairer, greener Wales: a plan for employability and skills” was published in March 2022 and prioritises 5 key areas

• Young people realising their potential

• Tackling economic inequality

 • Championing Fair Work for all

• Supporting people with a long-term health condition to work

• Nurturing a learning for life culture

Throughout this plan, measures to support disabled people into work, and to make sure that everyone has a chance to work with good working conditions, are integrated into the different sections.

Tackling Inequality

Welsh Government states one of the main goals is to tackle inequality and create a workforce which reflects society and our communities. We know that only 5.1% of people with learning disabilities with higher support needs are in paid employment. We are therefore particularly happy to see a strong commitment to supporting people with a learning disability into work. We firmly believe that businesses need better support to make sure they have inclusive recruitment practices and to ensure workplaces are accessible for everyone. In the employment plan Welsh Government write that it is working towards this through recruiting a team of Disabled People’s Employment Champions who will actively support businesses with the recruitment and retention of disabled people. Welsh Government also plans to guide employers to support disabled people and those with long term health conditions in the workplace through practical measures.

Furthermore, Welsh Government mentions skills and employability support aimed to specifically support groups currently underrepresented and who are often discriminated against in the workplace. One measure we are particularly happy to see is the plan to improve access to employability programmes for people with a learning disability by providing specialist intensive job coach support. We welcome Welsh Government’s plans to set and monitor diversity targets, and to put into effect a number of specific measures including for apprenticeships, which will support the most marginalised groups into work.

Support for young people

Welsh Government has committed to strengthening joint working with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to better support disabled people into work. We hope this will make it easier for people with a learning disability and/or autism to access support for job coaching and achieve success in the workplace. Welsh Government has pledged to tackle the gap between disabled and nondisabled young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEET). 19.7% of disabled young people aged 16-18 were NEET over a three-year period to September 2021, which rises to 40.0% for those aged 19-24. This compares to 6.8% and 9.4% respectively for non-disabled young people. The Engage to Change Project has evidenced that with the right support young people can succeed in the workplace and significantly improve their wellbeing and overall happiness. Plans to make this support easier to get are therefore very encouraging.

Welsh Government has established a Young Persons Guarantee for everyone under 25, to pursue work, education, training, or self-employment. The goal of this policy is “to create a nation where young people feel confident about planning their future.” The Employment and Skills Plan also commits to deliver the new Job Growths Wales Plus programme which aims to provide a holistic, tailored package of support for young people who are, or who are at risk of becoming NEET, to progress into employment, and encourage conversion onto Apprenticeships. The programme will include training and development to address barriers into employment and offer work placements and work trails as well as an employer wage subsidy. Priority will be given to those most disadvantaged. We are delighted to report that due to the work of Engage to Change young people with a learning disability are currently able to access job coach support for a traineeship provided by this programme.

Support for adults

To improve the employment prospects for economically inactive people, particularly those most at risk of disadvantage in the labour market including people with a learning disability, WG has introduced the new ReAct+ programme. This will deliver individualised support to unemployed and NEET adults 18+ to remove barriers to employment. The programme includes a Personal Development Support grant, mentoring for young people 18-24, and work experience where this is a barrier to employment. We welcome the recognition that people 18 years+ may also need specialist help and that additional support and funding will be available.

Working with the NHS

As part of our work in the Engage to Change project we have called on Welsh Government to develop a Public Sector Learning Disability and Autism Employment Strategy for the NHS in Wales. We believe that making the NHS and public sector better employers for people with a learning disability, would not just offer opportunities for new employees but also offer great benefits to hospitals and other services. We are therefore very pleased to see the plan include “employability expectations in planning guidance issued to the NHS, plus the Foundational Economy Health and Social Care Programme to widen access to work experience, training, Apprenticeships and employment for young people, disabled people and other under-represented groups”

The goal of this policy is to embed a culture in the NHS which does not accept any form of discrimination. We absolutely believe that inclusive recruitment and job coaching should be integrated into everyday working practices and in making sure that people with a learning disability get all the support they need to succeed in the workplace.

The way forward

We are very happy to see a policy document like this which offers concrete measures to not only get more people with a learning disability into paid employment, but also to make sure that employers treat all their staff well.  It is encouraging to know that several pathways to employment for young people with a learning disability are being developed and funded by Welsh Government: supported traineeships, supported internships and supported shared Apprenticeships.  Our concern is adults with a learning disability, particularly those over 25 years, who wish to work and who may currently be social services clients but outside the remit of supported Apprenticeship. We are not confident the mentor support and Personal Development Support grant accessible from ReAct+ will provide the job coach support we know is much needed.